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Contact: Christopher Heffron
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CHeffron@franciscanmedia.org

April 15, 2001   464 Words

 

Award-winning Novelist Alice McDermott Juggles Faith, Family and Fame

CINCINNATI—Despite being a National Book Award-winner and a two-time Pulitzer Prize-nominee, renowned novelist Alice McDermott remains grounded in reality by her faith, her family and her career. Even her books, which oftentimes focus on middle-class Irish Catholics, exude a normalcy to which many readers relate.

Her story is featured in the May issue of St. Anthony Messenger. Interviewed by Assistant Editor Mary Jo Dangel in the novelist’s Bethesda, Maryland, home, Alice McDermott explains how she juggles her religious convictions, family responsibilities and notoriety. St. Anthony Messenger is a national Catholic magazine published monthly by the Franciscan friars in Cincinnati, Ohio. The story can also be found at: http://www.AmericanCatholic.org.

As an undergraduate at State University of New York, McDermott showed a flair for fiction when her first short story was published in Ms. magazine. “The thing that made me want to become a fiction writer is the art of it, the remaking of reality,” she says. That reality frequently takes the shape of Irish-Catholic families wrestling with human frailties such as alcoholism and sexual irresponsibility.

McDermott’s religious beliefs play an integral part in the construction of her stories. “I don’t think I could purge the Catholicism from my writing if I tried,” she says. McDermott has chosen to write about individuals and families who rely on their faith and each other as they grapple with life’s difficulties.

Charming Billy, her latest novel, published in 1997, focuses on the grief of an Irish-Catholic family after the burial of Billy Lynch, an alcoholic. As they gather at a bar in the Bronx, they trade stories of Billy’s life and try to persevere through their loss. The novel struck a chord with readers and critics alike and, as a result, McDermott won the National Book Award in 1998. Her earlier novels, That Night (1987) and At Weddings and Wakes (1991), each garnered Pulitzer Prize nominations.

Professional accolades aside, McDermott also devotes time to being a wife and mother of three, a graduate-level writing professor at Johns Hopkins University and a volunteer librarian at an elementary school. Added to her already hectic schedule are two books that she is writing simultaneously, but this self-admitted “slow writer” has no idea which one will be completed first. “I’ve never made a target date in my life. My editor doesn’t even ask anymore.”   

Alice McDermott realizes the power her stories have over readers. While on a book tour in Seattle to promote Charming Billy, a woman approached the author and, through tears, thanked her for her realistic characters. McDermott simply responds: “When something like that happens, it’s bonus points.”

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